As we reported earlier, Tufts University’s Committee on Student Life (CSL) is holding a hearing today to address charges of harassment, encouragement of hostile environment, breach of community standards, and libel brought against the conservative student paper The Primary Source. The charges stem from two satirical articles printed in the paper, one last December and one just last week.
In seeking to punish political satire—the type of speech that lies at the absolute core of the First Amendment—Tufts University is displaying the most despicable hypocrisy. Although Tufts is a private university, and thus is not bound by the First Amendment, Tufts has chosen to promise its students and faculty the right to unfettered free speech. In Tufts’ student handbook, The Pachyderm, students are greeted by a welcome letter from the Dean of Student Affairs that states:
You should anticipate stimulating and sometimes controversial dialogue about issues important to you. You should also anticipate that you may be shocked when another student voices an opinion radically different from yours. We should cherish the opportunity to be learning in a place where controversial expression is embraced. (Emphasis added).
Moreover, the “Speakers and Programs” policy in The Pachyderm provides that:
Tufts is an open campus committed to the free expression of ideas. It is inevitable that some programs and speakers will be offensive to some members of the community…That offensiveness will not be seen as a reason to prevent the program. In fact, the university will strive to uphold the right of a campus organization to invite speakers or hold programs, even controversial ones, and to hold them without interruption. (Emphasis added).
In light of this explicit embrace of controversial expression, it is sickening that Tufts is putting students on trial for engaging in biting political satire on the timely and important topics such as affirmative action. This duplicity simply cannot be allowed to stand. If Tufts wants to crush political dissent, it must be upfront about that in its materials. It cannot use promises of freedom to lure the most talented students and faculty and then break those promises as soon as those people arrive on campus. As a recent article in Inside Higher Ed explains, there are serious consequences to a university for denying students and faculty the rights to academic freedom and dissent. In “Explaining an Exodus,” Andy Guess details the plight of Louisiana College, a Baptist liberal arts college that has been experiencing a brain drain since beginning to “move toward a more conservative orientation that has placed basic academic freedoms in jeopardy.” Over the past two years, at least 24 of the college’s 70 faculty members have left the university, and many speculate that the growing denial of academic freedom is a primary cause of the exodus. One former professor told Inside Higher Ed that at Louisiana College, “Education has been replaced by indoctrination. They’ve made it clear that you will do nothing but advocate the fundamentalist position, or you’re not welcome there.” Another retiring professor said that “the most painful aspect of the college’s recent direction is the declining quality of its students.”
If Tufts University wants to place political correctness and the “right not to be offended” above the right to core political expression, it must be explicit about that and, like Louisiana College, must face the consequences. To paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant. For the sake of truth and freedom, let’s shine some sunlight on the hypocrites at Tufts.